Welcome to The Regulars, a new feature written by Patrick Sisson that tells the story of Chicago's iconic bars from the point of view of those who know it best; owners, staff and regulars. Now, Loop mainstay Miller's Pub.
[Photo: The original Miller's Pub]
In a city of divided loyalties, a bar that counted both Cubs announcer Harry Caray and White Sox owner Bill Veeck as regulars must be on to something. Miller's Pub, a longtime Loop fixture at 134 S. Wabash, has the warm patina of Old Chicago, with a wooden bar worn like a pilgrim's idol, celeb snapshots everywhere and street signs from the intersections of Wrigley, Comiskey and the old Chicago Stadium on its walls. It speaks to the cross-section of patrons the bar attracts. Though, for those baseball fans keeping score, the technically south side bar and restaurant does dedicate the end of the bar to the memory of Mr. Veeck.
The bar's location and late hours -- favorable for the Loop business crowd, guests and celebs staying at the Palmer House, and downtown theater goers -- proved fortuitous. The brothers expanded and opened two additional businesses downtown, Wabash Inn and Vannie's. When a fire in 1989 caused smoke damage to the original Miller's location, the brothers moved the bar to Vannie's, which is now where the flagship business resides. Currently, Andy Gallios, Vannie's son, as well as his cousin, Aris Gallios, run the business. Here to tell the story are Vannie Gallios, the only surviving brother, and some key players from over the years.
[Photo: The Gallios brothers: Vannie, Jimmy, Pete and Nick]
Vannie Gallios, an original owner: "My older brothers in 1950, they were working in restaurant-related industries. They came in as dishwashers, etc. That was a magnet for a lot of Greeks who didn't want to be laborers. My brothers all worked for the original Billy Goat on Madison Street. We lived like a block away. Bill Sianas -- he had the goatee and everything -- he had a little toy wagon with blue and gold striping, made up to look like a paddy wagon. He would take myself and my little sister on rides down the street."
Andy Gallios, one of the current owners: "My dad came from a family with seven brothers and sisters. My grandfather sold vegetables on an old horse and carriage. They lived in a two-bedroom apartment for 10 people, slept in shifts. Even when they were young, my uncles were in the bar business. They started parking cars near the old Chicago Stadium."
Vannie Gallios: "We had a family friend who worked at the Palmer House who told us, 'There's a place on Adams, the owners aren't getting along, go and grab it.' Turns out they were actively discouraging business. They had a bookie in the basement. It was called a wire room. These outfit guys told the owners, 'You watch who comes in, we'll watch you, we'll pay your rent. You can serve anyone downstairs beer and sandwiches, but keep people that might be a problem out.' Well, the place got busted, and went up for sale. It was cheap. I think 25,000 bucks. My brothers picked up that lease. And that's how they got started. They immediately got a 4 a.m. license and started working almost 24 hours a day. There was always a Gallios in the place."
Rocco Novello, floor manager: "People ask me about the four brothers. Think of a candle. They all make up the candle, but Jimmy was the flame. He was the PR guy, he brought all the people in, great guy. They made a perfect team. Thank god they weren't all alike, it never would have worked."
[Photo: Queen Elizabeth's motorcade drove by the bar in 1959]
Vannie Gallios: "We're four brothers. We'd get in arguments over business, but never where we walked away mad at each other. We never really worked anywhere else. I never did. We just listened to the customers and did what they told us to do. Asked them, how do you like this new item, if you don't like it you don't have to pay for it. Good honest feedback helps."
Rocco Novello: "It was a lot of fun in the '60s. Everybody had money and was drinking. In the '50s, '60s and '70s, you couldn't buy a bar stool in the Loop. People would come in at 7 a.m. and have a few shooters, and then at 11 a.m. they'd be back. People were drinking whiskey, highballs, martinis. Not as much beer as today. Martinis were 50 cents apiece back in the '60s."
Vannie Gallios: "The Palmer House had a famous show room, the Empire Room, which would feature big name acts like Tony Bennett, Milton Berle, Don Ho from Hawaii, Jimmy Durante. They would be next door and the band would bring them over after a certain time of night. They'd be tired and come here with their crew. Berle would do card tricks. Durante always wanted fresh figs and cream."
Michael Gorman, bartender: "Nick Gallios used to say, this place was the goose that laid the golden egg, and we all need to stroke it."
[Photo: Vannie Gallios and Tony Bennett]
Vannie Gallios: "At the Palmer House in those days, they had elevator operators dressed like airline stewardesses. They were pretty. The Palmer house had a dozen manicurists; they were knockouts. They'd come over to a place, this bar known as Lander's. We'd get the overflow at Miller's, the cooks and bus boys, lots of drinkers, Irish guys ? they were all drinking people. We'd have horse dice at the bar, they'd gamble for drinks. Things were booming then. We went along with it and had a few expansions."
Michael Gorman: "What's changed is the lunch rush. Employees are much more restricted and watch what they drink. People would take a few hours, have a few martinis and cut the deal at the bar."
Vannie Gallios: "We're a location place. The Palmer House, the symphony, art museum, Millennium Park, all these venues are a draw."
Michael Gorman: "There's an old story that Harry Truman was staying at the Palmer House one time in the '50s and came over to Miller's early in the morning. He slipped his security guard if you can imagine such an innocent time."
[Photo: Miller's Pub in 1966]
Christopher Brandenburg, night manager: "Jimmy was sleeping in the back, and woke up to hear someone knocking at the door. It was Truman. He asked for a shot of Jack Daniels. Jimmy served it to him. The President was like, 'What do I owe you?' Jimmy says, 'I can't take that. It's on the house Mr. President.' Then the president says, 'After all that talk about you being a businessman, starting a business, that's not running a business very well.' Jimmy said, 'Well, technically, I can't sell you liquor right now, it's against the law.'"
Vannie Gallios: "During the '68 riots, when they were running down the streets, they were coming down here with blood on their heads. We had a lot of press in here, we held a table for them. My landlord said, 'Close the place, we don't want anything to happen.' We said, 'We're not going to close, we have more business than we ever did.' What about rioters? We have guys at the door. You just don't let them in, that's all. What if they cause trouble? We're covered with insurance, you know that."
[Photo: George Burns and Jimmy Gallios in the early '70s]
Peter Orfanos, general manager: "I remember after the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial, we used to get all the defense guys at the Wabash Inn. Abbie Hoffman, William Kunstler, everyone on trial would have dinner here. I had no problem with Hoffman; he tipped the waitresses well. Next door, the government guys were at Miller's Pub."
Vannie Gallios: "Bill Veeck would come in here, he'd order beer, he was a beer drinker. There was a specialist bookstore downtown, Kroch's and Brentano's, famous worldwide, so, Veeck would go over there every Wednesday and buy a shopping bag full of books. He sat at the end of the bar, sat at the same bar stool. That shopping bag full of books was his reading for the week. He had a mechanical leg, but he had to soak it in the tub for so many hours a day, that's when he would do his reading. He was like a renaissance man. Name a subject, he could converse on it. He would talk to anybody. If they wanted his autograph, he'd say he was honored. Nice man. He was a chain smoker and had a little ashtray in his wooden leg. "
[Photo: Bill Veeck, Billy Martin and Jimmy Gallios]
Michael Gorman: "Even though he owned a baseball team, Veeck wouldn't want to talk about baseball. When he was out, he wanted to talk about anything else. He'd have you talk about what you did. He was a big opera fan, history buff, always interested in learning new things."
Christopher Brandenburg: "We get a lot of convention business. Radiologists, machinists ... the beauty salon convention in March, everyone has the wild hairdos, it's like bartenders with scissors. They have their stories. Memorial Day weekend was always International Mr. Leather. For a few years it was at the Palmer House. Memorial Day weekend was always a down weekend for us, but these guys were great. They were very polite. Didn't drink much, but they tipped well. I asked what do the colored bandanas in the back pockets mean, and they're like, Oh, you want to know? We'd get regulars coming in asking about that table with all the guys in leather. Hey, their money is green, too. And they're the nicest guys."
Andy Gallios: "The night shift can turn into a weird thing sometimes. It feels like a full moon. Some nights it's like the Twilight Zone in here."
Christopher Brandenburg: "Saturdays are wedding nights, you get brides coming in here with their dresses. We're getting right into the wedding season. Midnight until 4 a.m., sometimes you get two or three weddings a night. We're overflow. Most weddings end at midnight, they know we're open late."
[Photo: Jimmy Gallios and Joey Bishop]
Michael Gorman: "Things kind of come back. Martinis and Manhattans were popular when I started here. They were so big we used to pre-mix them and have them on the gun. Now a vodka martini is one of the biggest selling drinks, or variations of it. People are really beer aficionados these days. When I first started, we just had Old Style and Schlitz on tap. It was a big deal when we got Heineken -- it was imported. Now people spend more time selecting a beer than they do a car."
Christopher Brandenburg: "You change something, like one of the dishes on the menu, and to some of our regulars, it can be like you've committed a capital crime. Why did you have the different carrots? What are you guys doing?"
Andy Gallios: "It's such a cross-section. Predominantly, we're an old boys club. But there's people from Europe, opera goers, symphony goers, people in from Iowa to see the cubs, Lollapalooza fans, people who went to stuff at Grant Park. It's a total melting pot."
Christopher Brandenburg: "We like to joke that the regulars start to look like the oil paintings behind the bar. They grow into it. We have people who have been coming for decades. The place is a part of their routine."
Joseph Twarowski, music teacher and regular: "What's different here is the tourists mix with the locals. Most locals come here because they know they mix with each other. I come here knowing there will be tourists, and the best part is, they give me great stories. The most important thing is conversation."
Christopher Brandenburg: "Any given day you can meet a lawyer, a plumber, an electrician, it's a cross section of America. You can see a guy in a suit next to a guy in a construction uniform. You constantly meet different people. I wouldn't get that if I was sitting in a cubicle."
Andy Gallios: "My dad always said this was No. 1. Do you know how many people this restaurant supported? I have a big family, 40 cousins or something like that. Do you know how many kids this place put through college, how many down payments on houses for our family, and the extended family? This comes first, this has given us what we have. It's always been treated like the baby."
Michael Gorman: "I love it. I'm here early every day. It's an institution. I can't tell you how many people tell me they were here five year ago, and when we came back to Chicago, we said we'd come back here again. It's nice to be at a place where you're flattered all the time. People like the association with old Chicago. They came here 20 years ago and it's the same, and I'm still here. There's a lot of comfort in that. It's important because we haven't changed. I live in fear they'll put a marble top on the bar. It shouldn't look updated or new."
[Photo: Uncle Milty even popped in for a drink]
Andy Gallios: "The menu hasn't changed much. We used to have creamed herring on the menu. It's not something that people under 80 really still order anymore. I had to fight my dad about it. Any change we make here, someone's going to complain because they liked things the way they were. It's a tough balancing act."
Rocco Novello: "I don't think you're going to find another place like this. This place can be empty and in 20 minutes it can be packed. It's been here so long, everybody knows it. You couldn't design it."
Christopher Brandenburg: "It's got a personality of it's own. It almost runs itself. It's there. We're the cogs, a little bit, but it runs itself. You think nothing's in town, then you'll get hit. The joke is, where did all these people come in from? The front door.”
Have any of your own stories about Miller’s? Leave them in the comments.